Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton has demoted the top police commander who oversaw the officers involved in the melee at MacArthur Park a week ago. He also reassigned the second in command that day. The actions coincide with multiple investigations into the incident, during which video cameras recorded riot police pushing, hitting, and firing non-lethal bullets at immigrant rights marchers and journalists. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports.
Frank Stoltze: Bratton said he demoted Deputy Chief Lee Carter to commander and ordered him to stay at home – "home assignment" in police parlance. The 33-year veteran oversaw the LAPD's Central Bureau, commanding 1700 officers. He had been among the most powerful men in the department.
Chief Bill Bratton: As chief of department, I have to be comfortable with the leadership team I have around me, and it's at this particular time that I felt that change was appropriate.
Stoltze: Bratton also reassigned Commander Louis Gray, a 39-year veteran and second in charge during the MacArthur Park incident. The chief refused to explain his actions in detail, but he may have focused on Carter or Gray because one of them probably gave the order for riot police to clear the park.
Bratton also took about 60 officers of the elite Metro Division off the streets for retraining. While he said there would be no "rush to judgment," he added those officers would face video footage of their behavior – behavior he's called disturbing.
Bratton: "Here's the video, this is you on the video, yes it is? Is this you doing certain actions? This is not a witch hunt."
Stoltze: Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are walking a fine line – condemning what happened on May 1st while seeking to reassure the police rank and file.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: Let me speak directly to the men and women of the LAPD. I know that the overwhelming majority of you serve the people of Los Angeles with distinction and honor.
[Sound of Taps being played]
Stoltze: The chief and mayor spoke on the day LAPD officers held their annual memorial service for fallen comrades at the Police Academy in Elysian Park. None of the police there would record interviews about the incident, and few would speak at all to reporters. One said he was reserving judgment. But he felt media should have gotten out of the way as officers tried to clear the park.
Marijo Johnson, the widow of a 14-year veteran LAPD officer, may have captured the sentiment of some officers.
Marijo Johnson: The video is very incriminating, but I think on both sides – provocation as well as officers trying to do their job.
Stoltze: Andre Birotte is the LAPD's Inspector General. He's conducting one of four investigations into what happened at MacArthur Park. He said police morale has suffered.
Andre Birotte: Particularly in Metropolitan Division, there is some doom and gloom, quite frankly.
Stoltze: Birotte said that while the chief has removed two top commanders who were in MacArthur Park, individual officers may be culpable too.
Birotte: Officers have a tendency to march to the orders that they are given. Nevertheless, there is individual responsibility, individual accountability to assess the scene as they're marching through, to determine whether the environment is one of aggressive combative nature, or are there passive resisters, or are there, in this case, are there media cameras that are in the way?
Stoltze: Birotte said the investigation is complex. It involves interviews with upwards of 150 officers and with potentially hundreds of witnesses – plus hours of video footage.
The MacArthur Park incident unfolded as Bratton applies to serve another five years as chief.
Bratton: None of this has anything to do with reappointment, because being quite frank with you, I'm very comfortable that that reappointment will occur. And that is the, being quite frank with you, the least of my concerns at this particular juncture. I do nothing that is focused on that issue; I focus on the interests of the city and the interests of this department.
Villaraigosa: Yeah, and let me say something about that as well.
Stoltze: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa jumped in. He praised the chief for removing personnel and quickly launching investigations. Pressed about whether the chief should bear any responsibility, the mayor flashed frustration.
Villaraigosa: We all have responsibility. And we're assuming that responsibility by ensuring that we get to the bottom of what happened here.
Stoltze: The president of the mayor-appointed police commission, which will decide Bratton's fate, said the panel will look at the chief's performance over five years – not just at MacArthur Park. Panel President John Mack, as well as much of the city's political leadership, has praised Bratton as a reform-minded chief who's lowered crime and helped overhaul the culture of the department. The chief has conceded there's more work to do.